Beethoven. I. Ludwlg van, a musician, probably a native of Maestricht in Holland, died in Bonn, Dec. 24, 1773. He was a bass singer of considerable reputation in the electoral chapel at Bonn, and in opera. About 1761 he was made kapellmeister by the elector Maximilian Frederick, and seems to have held that office until the appointment of Lucchesi in 1771. He composed several operas, none of which are now preserved. II. Ludwig van, one of the greatest of musical composers, son of Johann van Beethoven, a tenor singer in the electoral chapel at Bonn, and grandson of the preceding, born in Bonn, Dec. 16 or 17, 1770, died in Vienna, March 26, 1827. Before he was 4 years old he was placed at the harpsichord, and forced unrelentingly to perform his daily task of exercises. He soon required better instruction than his father could give, and became successively the pupil of Pfeiffer, oboist in the chapel, and of Van der Eder, court organist. In 1781 Van der Eder was succeeded by C. G. Neefe, and the pupil was transferred to him. In a musical periodical of that day it is said that at the age of 11 years he played nearly all of Sebastian Bach's Wohltemperirtes Elavier, and that Neefe had caused nine variations by him upon a march to be engraved.
Besides these variations, we possess a specimen of his powers at this early age in three pianoforte sonatas, dedicated to the elector and printed at Spire. Through the influence of Count Waldstein, Beethoven was in his 15th year appointed assistant court organist, and in his 18th was sent to Vienna at the elector's expense, to study with Mozart. The illness of his mother recalled him to Bonn, and her death about the end of July, 1787, doubtless was the cause of his remaining for the present there; for, owing to the habits of his father, the support of his two young brothers must in a great measure have devolved upon him. In 1792, his brothers being off his hands (Karl a music teacher, and Johann an apothecary's boy), Beethoven was again in a position to accept the elector's kindness, and returned to Vienna; which capital and its environs, save upon a single visit to Berlin, one or two to Prague, and his summer journeys for health to various watering places, he never again left. The young composer reached Vienna a few weeks before completing his 22d year, and, modestly suppressing all his previous attempts at composition, came before the public only as a pianoforte virtuoso. The first five years of his sojourn in Vienna were the happiest of the composer's life.
He mingled in the best society, was the favorite of people of the first rank, and was placed at the head of his profession by the best judges. In the mean time he was making himself master of musical form, studying successively with Haydn and the renowned contrapuntist Albrechtsberger, kapellmeister at St. Stephen's. The somewhat dry but thorough course of study pursued under the latter may be followed by the musical student in the work known as "Beethoven's Studies," which is made up from the lessons, original and selected, given him by his teacher, and is often enriched by the shrewd, witty, and caustic remarks of the pupil. The first important works which he sent to the press were the three sonatas, op. 2, and the three trios, op. 1, but others followed with a rapidity truly astonishing. It is not possible to arrange the works of this master in the order of their composition, and to decide how many, of his earlier productions especially, belong to a given period. It is certain, however, that before the close of the century the list included many variations and songs, more than 20 sonatas for the pianoforte solo, three (probably more) sonatas for the pianoforte and violin, three for piano and violoncello, three trios for piano, violin, and violoncello, that in Bb with clarinet, the quartet for piano and bowed instruments, the quintet for piano and wind instruments, the concertos in C and Bb for piano and orchestra, five trios, six quartets, the quintet in Eb for bowed instruments, the septet, the ballet "Men of Prometheus," and the 1st and 2d symphonies! But he was already suffering from a calamity which afterward greatly limited his productiveness, but which we may consider the cause of the profound depth of sentiment, feeling, and passion, which is the leading characteristic of the music of Beethoven. In a letter to his friend Dr. Wegeler, dated June 29, 1800, he says: "My hearing has been gradually becoming weaker for three years past." The original cause of this misfortune was a hemorrhoidal difficulty, and a consequent chronic weakness of the bowels, attended with violent colic.
He describes the symptoms of his case and its treatment by physicians, and adds: "I may say that I feel myself stronger and better in consequence, only my ears - they are still ever ringing and singing day and night. I can truly say that I pass a wretched existence; for the last two years I have almost entirely shunned society, because it is impossible to tell people I am deaf! " Again: "In the theatre I am forced to lean up close to the orchestra to understand the actors. The higher tones of the voices and instruments, if I am at a little distance, I cannot hear, and it is remarkable that people do not notice it in conversation with me." In the summer of 1802 he had a dangerous attack of illness, and in the prospect of death wrote a remarkable paper, addressed to his brothers, in which he paints the sufferings which he had passed through in very powerful language. We quote a few lines: "Born of an ardent, sanguine temperament, and peculiarly susceptible to the pleasures of society, yet at this early age I must withdraw from the world and lead a solitary life.
When I at times have determined to rise superior to all this, oh, how cruelly have I been again cast down by proofs doubly painful of my defective hearing; and yet it has been utterly impossible for me to say to people, 'Speak louder, scream, for I am deaf!' Ah, how could I proclaim the weakness of a sense which I ought to possess in a higher degree than others, which once I did possess in the highest perfection - a perfection equalled by few of my profession? Alas, I cannot do this! Forgive me, then, if I draw back when I would gladly mingle with you. My misfortune inflicts upon me a double woe in causing me to be misapprehended. For me there can be no recreation in social intercourse, no joining in refined and intellectual conversation, no mutual outpourings of the heart with others." Again: "But what humiliation, when some one standing by me hears a distant flute, and I hear nothing, or listens to the song of the herdsman, and I hear no sound! Such incidents have brought me to the verge of despair; a little more, and I had put an end to my life. One thing only, art - this restrained me.
I could not leave the world until that was accomplished which I felt was demanded of me." Upon his recovery from his illness, though he had little hope of ever recovering his hearing, he became more patient and cheerful, and again wrought out his musical inspirations with great industry. Among the numerous compositions of the few following years are several of his capital works. The "Heroic Symphony" was produced in 1804; "Fidelio" in 1805; the 4th, 5th, and 6th symphonies, and the mass in C, during the four following years. It is a common impression that the ill success of his opera "Fidelio" discouraged Beethoven ever after from attempting dramatic composition. His negotiations with various poets, Korner, Rellstab, Grillpar-zer, Bernard, for a libretto, even down to the close of life, and especially a formal written proposition dated in 1807, and still in existence, to the management of the imperial theatres for an engagement as regular composer, show how erroneous is the impression. What prevented the acceptance of Beethoven's proposition by the managers is not now known.
The music to Kotzebue's, "Ruins of Athens" was first performed in 1812; the "Battle of Vitoria" and the 7th symphony in the autumn of 1813; the cantata, "The Glorious Moment," at the Vienna congress in 1814; and the 8th symphony was written as early as 1816. The labors of the summer of 1815 were principally devoted to the arrangement of the Scottish songs for George Thompson of Edinburgh. From this period the works of Beethoven followed each other in still less rapid succession, not only from the grandeur and extent of their designs, but from the effects produced upon him by a legal process, which claimed much of his attention and caused him the deepest anxiety. The last half dozen sonatas, those giants of pianoforte composition; the grand mass in D, a three years' labor; the overture in C, op. 115; the 9th symphony, with chorus, completed in 1824; and the last grand quartets, were the principal productions of his last 10 years. The legal process above mentioned was too important in its influence to be passed over without some notice. His brother Karl had been unfortunate in his marriage, and upon his death in 1815 had left his son to the special care and protection of the composer.
The mother, although she soon became the kept mistress of a citizen of Vienna, refused to part with her son, and Beethoven was forced to bring the case before the courts. The will of the father was not sufficient ground by the laws of Austria for removing the child from his mother, nor for his legal adoption by his uncle. It became necessary for Beethoven to prove the bad character of his sister-in-law, and show that the moral welfare of the boy demanded his removal from her influence. This, to a man who in the corrupt society of Vienna had lived a blameless life, and who had his friends and acquaintances principally among princes and the nobility, was in the last degree mortifying. Its effect upon him was so great that nothing but the necessity of meeting the large expenses entailed upon him by the lawsuit, and by his adoption of the boy, induced him to meet the demands of his publishers. During three years not one of his great works was produced. The suit was originally brought in 1816, in the court in which the causes of the nobility were tried, and after two or three years, during which the boy was sometimes in possession of the mother and at others of the uncle, was decided in favor of the latter.
The opposing counsel thereupon brought a technical objection to the proceedings, viz., that Beethoven was not of noble birth, and could not bring suit in this court; that van in Holland was not equivalent to von in Germany. The point was sustained, and the suit was transferred to the magistrates' court of the city, clearly the proper place, as Beethoven had been made a citizen of Vienna some years before, as a mark of honor. The former decision was here reversed, and Beethoven was obliged to bring a new action. It was not until some time in the year 1821 that he obtained full possession of the boy. In the mean time the nephew had fallen into habits of indolence, falsehood, and extravagance beyond the power of his uncle to restrain or control. Johann van Beethoven, the composer's younger brother, was mean, sordid, and vain, and married to a woman who brought her illegitimate daughter to his house, and not seldom received her own lovers there. For such a man Beethoven could have little fraternal affection. The nephew became all in all to him. Upon him he lavished all the rich affections of his great heart; no pains nor expense was spared on the young man's education; but in vain.
In August, 1826, the youth, then about 20 years of age, unable to pass the examinations of the school to which he belonged, filled up the measure of his ingratitude by shooting himself in the head. The wound was not fatal, and at length he recovered. By the laws of Austria he was an offender against public morals and the church, and for some months was deprived of liberty. When at length restored to his uncle, it was with the order to leave Vienna in 24 hours. In his extremity Beethoven accepted the invitation of his brother to retire with Karl to Johann's estate on the Danube, some 80 miles above Vienna, until such time as a place in the army could be found for the young man. The place and the society of his brother's family soon became insupportable to the composer, and he determined to return to the capital. This journey of two days, in cold, wet weather, was too much for his feeble constitution, and he readied Vienna, Dec. 2,1826, with his nephew, laboring under the effects of a very severe cold. Violent inflammation of the lungs set in, succeeded by dropsy, under which he sank. - In the catalogue of Beethoven's works, we find hardly a branch of the art in which he had not wrought, but the preponderance of the instrumental over the vocal music is striking.
For the full orchestra he has left us 9 symphonies, 11 overtures, the Egmont music, the "Battle of Vitoria," and some shorter pieces. Of chamber music the compositions - among them 16 grand quartets, and 4 trios for bowed instruments, from the grand concerto and septet down to the romanza and sonata - are very numerous. There are 32 grand sonatas for the pianoforte solos, and more than 100 other compositions, varying from the grand concerto to the variations upon a melody tor that instrument alone or combined with others. Two masses, one sacred cantata, and a number of songs, belong to the branch of sacred music; an opera, and a vast variety of songs, trios, etc, fill up the catalogue of his vocal music. Beethoven's mission, if we may use the term, was to perfect instrumental music as the language of feeling and of the sentiments. Under Bach, Haydn, and Mozart, the sonata and the symphony had attained their complete development in form. Under Beethoven, a new soul was infused into them. Something had already been done in this direction.
We perceivo traces of it in Bach and in Mozart. Clementi had written a sonata for the pianoforte, entitled Dido Abbandonata, and Haydn, in quartet and symphony, was in the habit of imagining some story, the situations of which, in their corresponding emotions, he endeavored to depict. Beethoven went further. He not only painted character as no other master had done in music (see his overtures to "Prometheus" and "Coriolanus"), but made his music the medium of communicating the feelings which swelled his own breast. We feel this continually in his pianoforte sonatas, nor is the explanation of the fact difficult. The unremitting practice to which he was forced by his father during childhood, together with the course of instruction then in vogue, which aimed rather at making sound musicians than masters of finger gymnastics, gave him that power over the pianoforte and the organ without which no one can be said to have a mastery over those instruments. Beethoven's extemporaneous performances were as free from false harmonic relations as the speaking of an accomplished orator from errors in the use of articulate speech.
Upon his arrival in Vienna men who had known Mozart and fully appreciated his marvellous powers, confessed their astonishment at the force, vigor, and fire of the young Rhinelander when, giving his fancy the rein, his flying fingers interpreted the current of his musical thoughts. In his earliest published works will be found much of that pensive feeling which distinguished his extemporaneous efforts, and this quality in his sonatas became more marked as he advanced in years. When writing for the orchestra the grandeur of his thoughts rose with the increase of means at his command, and he reached heights beyond all that composers before him or since have attained. - Justice has not usually been done to Beethoven on the score of intellect. His large head was in fact filled with a brain capable of intensely energetic and long-continued action. He was an insatiable reader, especially of history, and none followed with a deeper interest the rapidly changing scenes of that great political drama which began in his 19th year in Paris, and ended at the congress of Vienna in 1815. Born upon the Rhine, reared under the remarkably liberal institutions of the electorate of Cologne, and subjected to the direct influence of those ideas which set France in a blaze, he was early and for life a republican in his politics.
In whatever sphere of mental activity Beethoven had been placed, he would have been a man of mark. - Great preparations had been made long in advance for the celebration of Beethoven's centenary anniversary throughout Germany in December, 1870; but owing to the Franco-German war then raging they were only partially carried out, and in Bonn the commemoration was held on a large scale in August, 1871. - There are a number of biographies of Beethoven, the earliest being that by his friend A. Schindler (Biographie von Ludwig van Beethoven, 2 vols. 8vo, Minister, 1838; 2d ed., 1860). On his deathbed the composer expressed a wish that his life should be written by Fr. Rochlitz, the author of the work Fur Frevnde der Tonlcunst; but the state of Rochlitz's health prevented his undertaking the work, and it devolved upon Schindler, whose long and intimate acquaintance with Beethoven gave him many advantages for performing the task. Schindler's work was translated into English and edited by Moscheles. Among the other lives of Beethoven, the most voluminous is by Mr. Alexander W. Thayer, an American, who has devoted many years of his life to the minute researches necessary to make an exhaustive biography of the composer.
The work at the present date (1873) is unfinished, only one volume having been published, and that in German. The other principal sources of information upon this subject are as follows: Wegeler and Ries, Biographische Notizen uber L. v. Beethoven (Coblentz, 1838); Dr. A. B. Marx, Ludwig van Beethoven's Leben und Schaffen (2 vols., Berlin, 1859; 2d ed., 1863); L. Nohl, Beethoven's Leben (2 vols., Vienna, 1864-'7); and Ludwig van Beethoven's Bio-graphie und Characteristic, by Dr. Heinrich Doring, prefixed to the Wolfenbtittel edition of the composer's pianoforte sonatas.